In the spring of 2007, Kevin Durant was the most skilled college player, a scorer out of Texas. Befitting the Durant bio, he could make shots from just about anywhere. The only knock on him was thinness. At the draft combine, he could barely bench press 100 pounds. That seemed to indicate he was going to be fragile. NBA physicality off ball was inclusive of bumping scorers off their spots, moving screens, cheap shots, jamming players as they established position. It required a body that could withstand (and dish out) punishment. Kevin Durant was too skinny.
Greg Oden was not skinny. He was big. Huge. Big hands. Big feet. Big body. He had a touch with the ball. He could rebound, block shots. He wasn’t Shaq and he wasn’t Dwight Howard. He didn’t have that kind of athleticism but he was a game changer for a league that still valued size.
Oden played in the national championship game. He came out of a winning culture. His college teammates included Mike Conley. (Oden and Conley were also high school teammates.)
But Oden had an injury history. Before he played a single Ohio State game he had wrist surgery because of torn ligaments. He missed the early part of OSU’s season. But you couldn’t discount his size. The choice for the Blazers, who had the number one pick in the draft in 2007, wasn’t particularly creative. The league had shooters up and down the roster. Talented big men were rare.
The selection of Oden was only newsworthy because the Blazers took a big man once upon a time. Sam Bowie was an injury disaster, broken leg after broken leg, leading to mediocrity. The Blazers could have taken a scorer, Michael Jordan, instead of Bowie. There were whispers that history was repeating itself, passing on a scorer for a big man who may get injured, re-establishing the Blazers big man, number one pick in the draft injury hoax.
Similar to OSU, Oden couldn’t even wait for the season to start for the injury wheel to spin. He had microfracture surgery. Out a year. Everyone from Chris Webber to Amar’e Stoudamire who had microfracture surgery were robbed of quickness. Odom had yet to be a professional. Hello Blazers curse.
The next year, he came into training camp fat and surprise, surprise he injured his foot. His first NBA points were on January 19, 2009 versus the Heat. A month later, a common NBA occurrence, banging knees, caused another injury. At the end of that year, it was a Grinch stealing Christmas moment. Oden had to be carried off the court. Surgery on his left patella followed the drama. A year later, another microfracture surgery. A year later, a setback. Three months later, arthroscopic surgery. He had the same procedure on the left knee 17 days later and extensive damage was discovered. One more microfracture surgery.
Less than a month later, he was waived. He signed a one year deal with the Miami Heat but he was less than ordinary. He could barely move. It wasn’t going to last. He ended up in China.
Greg Oden has finally accepted reality. “It is over” he said about his career. He is a student now and a student coach at his alma mater, Ohio State.
Off court, Oden’s private life descended into the shameful. He punched his girlfriend in the face and pleaded guilty.
Back at Ohio State, this is the rest of Greg Oden’s life. It happens to all players. The beginning, the middle and the end. Greg Oden didn’t have a middle though. Just a beginning and a very abrupt end.
As for the Blazers. They suffered and then they didn’t. They still had LaMarcus Aldridge, a draft day trade in 2006. Their hopes of a twin towers, Aldridge and Oden, were dashed. It was Aldridge and Brandon Roy. And then Aldridge and Damian Lillard. And now it is Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. The Blazers are a resilient organization. Their history is their history. They passed on Michael Jordan. They passed on Kevin Durant. But it didn’t kill their franchise. They fell down. They got back up.
Greg Oden fell down. Here is his chance to get back up. It’s a sad story-Oden played a full year and then only two months- but only if Oden doesn’t take charge of his life and replace basketball with something greater. He is a father now. He said, “I’m still trying to figure out my life. Since I’ve been in fourth grade, all I’ve known was basketball. I’m just trying to better myself and work on my degree and set something up for the future for my family.”
Starting over. It happens. Even to seven footers who are former #1 draft picks with a resume of underachievement due to injury.
photo via llananba